2016-17 Recommended Hikes
by Marti Smith, Smoky Mountain 900 Miler
& GSMA's Membership Associate
The hike to Mt. Cammerer Fire tower in the Cosby area includes both panoramic views and history. Even though it is a little over 11 miles round trip, the shortest route to this rock fire tower is via the Low Gap Trail in Cosby Campground to the Appalachian Trail.
The beginning of Low Gap Trail shares the way with the Cosby Nature Trail. In a little less than half a mile there is a junction. Turn right at this intersection and continue up Low Gap Trail for another 2.5 miles. The elevation gain is slightly over 2,000 feet, so bring plenty of snacks and water to keep yourself energized. There are quite a few switchbacks on this trail that help alleviate some of the elevation gain.
When you reach the Appalachian Trail, give yourself and your hiking companions a “high five” for completing this challenging section. Then turn left and continue in up the A.T.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies is always a great nature experience. You will see views of Cosby and Tom’s Creek Valley through the trees on this section as you are literally hiking on the spine of the mountains in the GSMNP. Although this section is traversing up, the grade is kinder than the previous trail. After a two-mile trek on the A.T. there is a sign on the right that shows a distance of 0.6 miles to Mt. Cammerer. This spur trail to the summit of 4,928 feet is rugged but not considered to be difficult. It is fairly level with a little rock scrambling as you approach the “western style” fire lookout. It is called this style because it does not require a raised tower structure to see above the trees.
The Mt. Cammerer fire observation building rests on the summit of the mountain which is a rock outcropping. It was constructed by the CCC in the late 1930s and built from rock found in the surrounding area. There are views from the top of the Pigeon River Gorge and 360-degree views of row upon row of mountains. Some say these are the best views in the Smokies. I tend to agree.
The mountain is named after Arno Cammerer, one of the most popular National Park Service directors of the 1930s. During his tenure national park areas tripled along with an increase in visitation. After he passed away in 1941, it was decided to name the mountain after him. The peak was formerly called “White Rocks” by the locals and still is by some today.
Thomas Divide with Optional Kanati Fork Combination
Thomas Divide Trail is ridge walking at its best, and winter is the best time to enjoy this experience, as the deciduous trees are bare. The trail follows the ridge and at this high elevation has excellent panoramic views. The ridgeline of this trail literally splits the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains range, resulting in views on both sides from the center of the park. You can actually see Clingmans Dome to the west of the trail.
The trail starts by climbing to 5,000 feet in just an eighth of a mile where it hits Beetree Ridge. At this point this section levels off to a gentle, narrow, typical Smoky Mountain trail in a spruce-fir forest. As it starts to descend toward the first intersection of Kanati Fork, the trail enters a Northern hardwood forest of Hemlocks, Mountain Maple, Birch and Red Oak.
When you arrive at the Kanati Fork intersection, you can turn left and descend 2000 feet for three-mile ramble down a series of switchbacks through a lower elevation deep wooded trail. This is a good trail to come back to in the spring, as an abundance of trilliums and other wildflowers can be found here. Kanati, the Cherokee word meaning “hunter,” legend says was the first man of the Cherokee. He taught the Cherokee people how to hunt.
If you choose this option, you will need to bring two cars and leave one at this trailhead along U.S. 441/Newfound Gap Road in North Carolina, approximately 8 miles north of Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
If you decide not to turn left and turn around and come back the way you came, you will enjoy those ridge views from a different perspective. It is amazing how you'll notice things differently when coming from a different direction. Either way I am sure you will enjoy this hike as it is one of my favorites.
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